Assessing the climate change vulnerability of reptile and amphibian species in Table Mountain National Park

Jack Harper (M.Sc. student)

Supervisors: Prof. Wendy Foden, Dr Susan Cunningham, Dr Nicola van Wilgen

As the first documented cases of climate-induced extinctions are reported, an emerging but key aspect of effective conservation management is producing robust assessments of species vulnerability to climate change. In order to gain an understanding of the likely vulnerability of a species, its sensitivity, adaptive capacity, and exposure to climate change must be considered. If a species is deemed to have high sensitivity, low adaptive capacity, and high exposure to climate change then it will be predicted to be among the most vulnerable species. In this study I will use a trait-based approach in combination with correlative modelling to examine the climate change vulnerabilities of reptile and amphibian species in Table Mountain National Park. A trait-based approach uses a variety of life history and ecological knowledge, and the improving knowledge of associations between biological traits and climate change impacts to predict species’ sensitivity and adaptive capacity to climate change. The use of correlative modelling adds additional insight by highlighting the climatic variables associated with the species’ historical ranges, enabling species-specific choices of the most appropriate climate variables within the assessment. With assistance from several herpetology experts, a framework of climate change sensitivity and low adaptive capacity characteristics have been identified for reptiles and amphibians, respectively. I am currently compiling a database of the presence or absence of these traits for each of the 45 species of reptile and 17 species of amphibians found in Table Mountain National Park. Once this is completed, I will begin the correlative modelling before compiling all of the findings to identify which species are most vulnerable. Upon the completion of this process these outputs will be incorporated in to the spatial planning of the park to ensure areas with disproportionately high numbers of climate vulnerable species are prioritised. 

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